May 31, 2023

So long, Muhammadu Buhari!

So long, Muhammadu Buhari!

Ex-President Muhammadu Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

By the time you’re reading this, it would have been about 48 hours since  Muhammadu Buhari vacated office as the 15th president, the fourth since the country’s return to civil governance in 1999, of Nigeria. In a nationwide broadcast on May 28, a day before he left the seat of power in Abuja for his natal home in Daura via Kaduna, the former president had painted a largely positive picture of his time in office and given himself not a mere pass but a high score, concluding that he had left Nigeria better than he met it in 2015 when he was first elected into office after three failed attempts.

Buhari’s self-assessed performance scorecard is one that many, if not most Nigerians, disagree with. Long before his May 29 departure from the presidential residence in Aso Villa, Nigerians had reached a verdict on his presidency. In the last couple of weeks and, indeed, days to his final exit from power, that verdict of his time in office has at once been defined by and reiterated in a word that has become something of a musical chorus: failure.

This is a sad and regrettable judgement on a man who came into office highly beloved, one who promised to deliver more than was expected and on whom so much hope was hanged. But Buhari has been a flop as president and his greatest aspiration when he doggedly sought office, it would appear, was to settle score with and erase the disappointment of being ousted in a coup by former colleagues and persons he thought had far less to recommend them to be president than he. 

Perhaps, following three failed, emotion-draining attempts and a last-ditch try (the fourth time around) that didn’t only turn out successful but was largely made possible by Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the man that has now succeeded him as president, Buhari came into office apparently exhausted, mentally and physically. This was at a time he was expected to put to national service his spartan asceticism and discipline, the only attributes that have been his strongest points and which stood him out from the array of corrupt politicians, civilian and military, that Nigeria has had the misfortune of being governed by. 

Which is the same thing as saying that even by the middling standard of the Nigerian military, Buhari had pretty little to recommend him from his previous years in public service than the fact of his spartan lifestyle and discipline, two highly sought-after qualities that were diametrically opposed to the profligate consumerism and corruption of the Goodluck Jonathan years. He was, therefore, more of a symbol of what Nigerians didn’t want to see than what they earnestly desired for their much-abused country.

All the same, Buhari promised to live up to the billing and famously said he belonged to nobody but to everybody.  As Nigerians would come to see, the man just couldn’t walk the talk of his proclamation. He seemed too tired and the signs of this were there from the moment he was elected. It was just that we couldn’t see far enough to understand his lassitude for what it was. His major critics at this time who would later claim to have recognised Buhari’s limitations based on his time as a military man were too politically-minded and perversely opposed to him to be considered credible. Theirs was a case of both disguised and undisguised bigotry mixed with hatred.  

The newly-elected Buhari got into office and promptly went to sleep – literally. For the next five months or thereabout, he had no cabinet to execute the very elaborate campaign promises he had made to Nigerians. When he finally had one in place, it was heavily skewed in favour of his Fulani,  Hausa, Moslem and Northern kith and kin in that order. Soon after, he would take ill and from there onwards, it was like a fast slide down a steep hill side as the economy that had been ailing before his election into office continued to convulse and thereafter went into recession. 

Cattle herders ran amok, went on rampaging sprees across the country, raping, maiming and killing in the hundreds, while the president barricaded himself  in the Villa, got busy idly sending platitudinous messages to traumatised communities. The Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East were soon to be joined by the so-called bandits in the North-West that made armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom highly lucrative commercial ventures. They ruled the crime roost and openly called the bluff of the security agencies, as did the so-called unknown gun men that transformed the South-East into a killing field.

President Buhari’s second term was remarkable for its lack of policy shift from his lacklustre first term. In spite of endless complaints from Nigerians, there was no change (contrary to the grand boast of change on which the administration anchored its policies) in direction as the president who took more than his time to make appointments, was quick to renew or extend such appointments even when they had gone beyond statutory limits was tragically slow to fire. Most of his appointees, ministers, heads of departments and agencies, hold the long service record of their units. 

This was not for their exceptional performance (in fact the opposite was often the case) but simply because the president just couldn’t bring himself to sack his hires no matter their level of failure or infraction. Rather than change, Buhari doubled down and consolidated on the failures of his administration, which were numerous. Thus, the challenge of a parlous economy, grave security situation which he inherited were aggravated and extended further to give birth to a polity fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines which were his unique contribution to the national rot.

All would be compounded several folds to the point where the country tottered on the brink of inter-ethnic and religious implosion on the eve of the last national elections that held between February and March 2023, and since then. We are still drinking from that pond of identity crisis as Buhari made his way back to Daura and Bola Ahmed Tinubu was sworn in at about 10:30 a.m on Monday. 

It has to be said that it hasn’t all been a litany of woes from  Buhari. His administration made some mark in the area of infrastructure, the commissioning of a lot of which became his main preoccupation in the last weeks, days and hours of his administration. In the end, the man who could no longer wait to be in Daura and be freed of his presidential duties, has left a very tough row for his successor to plough. The highlighted wrongs of his administration point President Bola Tinubu in the direction he needs to look to make things right.